January Newsletter

Happy New Year!
I know it’s a little late, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks.
We celebrated the new year with a member’s party at my house last weekend. It was a lot of fun, and we had quite a buffet of foods – everyone brought something delicious, and everyone went home FULL. I’m still enjoying a bit of leftover sake!
A couple of people played the traditional game of GO, and a few of us watched the director’s cut of the original Highlander movie. “There can be only one!”

Dojo News

Testing – everyone passed!

Last week, we had 2 candidates for 4kyu (our first rank) and 2 candidates for 2kyu, and all people passed. Congratulations goes to Erik, Joey for their 4kyu, as well as Kelly and Paul for their 2kyu. Omedetto gozaimasu! We still have a couple of people to test for 4kyu, and will probably do that sometime within the next month as well. Members can test up to 2kyu in the dojo, and after that must attend a Kendo Federation event either at the regional or national level to test further. I and possibly a couple of other members will be heading to Cleveland in June for the national iaido summer camp. It should be great!

New cutting blade

We ordered a cutting blade from Nishijin for 56,000 yen. It’s got a Chinese made carbon steel blade with traditional Japanese made fittings. It’s a bit tip heavy and weighs around 1200g. Can’t wait to cut with it!

Upcoming Events

April- Core Con demonstration
May – Guelph seminar
June 2- AUSKF Iaido summer camp
Mid July or Early August – Moorhead dojo (first annual) MWKF iaido seminar
October – 3rd annual Fargo All Martial arts seminar and cancer benefit

Interesting reading:

I found this article from Kim Taylor sensei about reishiki and thought it was a good read.
Have a good month!


Kim Taylor

Just why, exactly, do we bow to the instructor and to our fellow students when we practice the Japanese martial arts. Is there something here that we as free, equal, democratic Canadians should be offended by. After all, many Canadians will no longer consider bowing down to the Royal family, why should we bow to anyone else. To make matters worse, in some arts we bow down to a picture or even crazier, to a wall. Where did this behavior come from.
Right off, let’s make it clear that bowing and the other forms of etiquette in the martial arts do not indicate subservience. They indicate respect which is entirely different. The forms of polite action in the dojo have meaning beyond an acknowledgement of the Japanese root of the arts.

It is, of course from their Japanese roots that the etiquette of the martial arts derive. The men and women who first introduced budo to the west also brought the methods of teaching that they were given by their instructors. These methods included reishiki.
After a generation or two in North America the bowing and scraping may be getting to seem a bit artificial. This is only natural since we express our politeness in ways other than the bow. We shake hands, and call people “sir”. We open doors for people. We have dozens of ways to express politeness and respect that we think of about as often as a Japanese would think of bowing, not often.
Perhaps we should examine in further detail just what it is that we are doing when we bow in such a perfunctory way, and how we, as Canadians can use these transplanted rituals to our own advantage.


In Japan itself reishiki was developed to a high degree in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) with various schools of the art arising. The great neo-confucian movement of the age was a major impetus, infusing the act with the hierarchical meaning that it carries today. The idea that all authority came from above and that everyone had his or her own place in the order of things was reinforced by the degree of bowing between people.
The Imperial court had, from earliest history, always stressed reishiki and the bushi (who were originally country bumpkins) had in the course of association picked up the habit. The court of the Shogunate adopted these manners and from them the samurai throughout the country began to use the forms.

It did not take long, however for the bushi to create their own, distinctive forms of etiquette. Even in the Tokugawa era the action of bowing went beyond a simple acknowledgement of authority into the realm of how to act properly at all times.
Put simply, it was reishiki that allowed the Edo samurai to go about his business without giving or taking offence and without letting his alertness drop for a moment. It was a matter of safety as much as a matter of correct action and courtesy. With constant attention paid to each outward movement, the mind of the warrior could not be other than awake at all times. With no daydreaming the possibility of accidents was reduced and no actions were taken (or accepted) that were not intentional.
It is this aspect of the samurai etiquette that is “appended” to the martial arts in this country. The bows are not a form of submission, but a way of practicing safely and with alertness. “Budo begins and ends with Reishiki”. This does not mean that we bob our heads at the start and the finish of a class, it means that Budo is Reishiki. Manners are not “added on”, they are part and parcel of the art.

There is nothing wrong with bowing to your instructor for no other reason than to say thank you. He or she has worked hard for many years to achieve the level of skill that can now be passed on to you. That commitment should be appreciated since the work that has gone before makes your learning easier. The bows and the other forms of politeness then, tell the teacher and yourself that you appreciate the effort and that you respect it enough to give your best effort to learn what you can. In this manner, reishiki has the purpose of forcing you to concentrate on what you are doing.
One of the reasons to take up martial arts training is to lose the ego. If you cannot bow to someone else without feeling as if you are submitting somehow to them, then you have no chance of obtaining egolessness. In this case, the bow is a shock on a fundamental level to the idea of yourself as a distinct entity. This shock is even greater in a society that does not bow any more. The greater the shock to the idea of a distinct self, the more open you will be to new ideas and the greater the chance that you will learn something.
Reishiki goes beyond simply bowing in the modern dojo, just as it did two hundred years ago. Etiquette defines how you enter and leave the room, how you move past your fellow students, how you sit or stand and how you practice. If everyone is following the same code of behavior, everyone will know what to expect in a class. What this means, simply, is that nobody is going to step in front of you when you least expect it and you can worry about other things instead. At the same time, the specific actions of reishiki have the effect of giving you a more alert position so that when the unexpected does occur you can deal with it.

Each art and each instructor in the art will establish a distinct code of behavior for the students. The main thing to remember is to act at all times with full awareness of what you are doing and why. What follows is a discussion of several forms of Reishiki that are common to most Japanese dojo.

As you enter and leave the specific room or practice area you stop, put your feet together and bow toward the practice surface. This is often described as a prayer to the dojo that you will practice well and hard. If you don’t want to pray to a wood and cement structure, make it a small meditation to yourself. You leave the busy and confused world outside and enter the wholly concentrated world of the dojo. This is the first step and is followed by a series of actions that remind you on a subconscious level that the outside world should be left outside.
On a more mundane level, stopping before you step onto the practice surface is simply good sense. Stepping out without looking can get you hit over the head with a sharp object.

This is a bow performed at the start and end of each class which is directed toward the high point in the room, or perhaps at a photograph, scroll, or even toward a Shinto shrine. The bow is another transition step from the outside world to the dojo. It is also a moment wherein students can reflect on the history of their art since this is the time when gratitude is expressed toward the founder and the previous instructors of the art. Bowing to shomen also reminds you where it is, this is important in how you move around in the dojo.

At the start and end of a class, students have a chance to make a formal bow to the instructor. This should be done carefully and with full attention since this is your chance to show your gratitude for the patience and ability of the sensei. It also expresses your willingness to learn and your request to be instructed.
At many times during a class you will have a chance to thank the instructor for advice or correction. By making this bow with full awareness you will ensure that you are paying full attention to what is being said. It is all too easy to half listen and say “thanks” and then go right on practicing something badly.

If you have the opportunity to work with a partner, you will bow to each other. Again, bow carefully and with attention. You are saying to your partner, “please practice with me” and “thank you for your cooperation”. A sloppy bow will lead to sloppy practice and the potential for accidents as one student bows while the other attacks.
Always remember that the senior students, and the instructors can tell a lot about your attitude by how you observe the etiquette of the dojo.

Shoes or slippers should be worn on the way to the dojo to avoid picking up infections and passing them on to your fellow
students. These shoes are taken off at the practice area and should be lined up neatly facing away from the dojo floor. They are lined up neatly and out of the way simply to prevent someone tripping over your mess. They are lined up ready to be put on as you leave so that there is little fuss at the end of the class. By placing the shoes so that you are ready to leave the class you are showing that you intend to pay attention and learn. If you don’t learn, you can’t leave.

All movement in the dojo should be done with full awareness and control at all times. It is considered rude to flap your arms around and swivel your head about as you look at everything except what you should watch. Look where you are going at all times and you will be safe as well as polite.
Walking politely means being able to stop without falling over at any point in your stride, under control. If you pass other students who are practicing, wait until they are finished and see you, don’t disturb them. This is a safety rule as well. If you are moving down a line of seated students, move along behind them, not in front between them and the instructor. This cuts their view and also exposes yourself to attack. In effect you are daring them to attack. This shows that you are not paying attention. If you must pass in front of them extend your right hand and bow forward slightly to apologize for your blocking their view. This places your hand in their view before your body so that they have a chance to stop any potentially dangerous actions. Better to lose a finger than an eye.
A common rule is never to expose your back to the shomen or highest point in the room. High ranking visitors will be seated close to this point and it would be rude to show them your backside. More importantly the rule is an exercise in knowing where you are in relation to the environment at all times.

When you are standing it is impolite to slouch against a wall, put your hands in your pockets, cross your legs or generally to be slovenly. All of these prohibitions are to prevent you from moving into a position that exposes you to attack and injury. It would be paranoid to assume that someone is going to sneak up behind you and attack, even during a martial arts class. It is not paranoid to assume that someone might fall into you from behind. By being polite when you stand you are in the best position to prevent an injury to yourself.

You should be no less polite when you sit down. In Japan it is generally considered rude and ugly to have your limbs spread out away from your body. Think about this cultural foible in terms of sitting with your legs out in front of yourself during a class. Now think what would happen to your knees if someone were to land on them during a practice. On the other hand think how you would feel if you were to trip and injure a fellow student. Again a rule of etiquette is in reality a safety rule. Your legs and arms should always be tucked in and protected from injury.
The idea that it is rude and unsightly to have your elbows sticking out at the sides is also more than a safety rule, it is a good posture training rule. In almost no case is it of
advantage for a martial artist to have their elbows out away from the centre of the body, so why allow students to get into the habit.

The majority of the rules of etiquette in the modern Japanese budo can be traced to the use and practice of the sword. With several students swinging very sharp blades at the same time, certain modes of behavior were developed for the sake of safety. When the swordsman moved out of the dojo the need for a code of behavior that kept the swords inside the scabbards was even more obvious. In fact, one of the excuses for a fight was the practice of saya ate or hitting someone’s scabbard with your own as you passed. Passing on the right side of another swordsman thus became a dangerous (and then rude) practice. One passed so that one’s sword was out of reach. It also became polite behavior to place your sword a certain way at certain times since this showed your intent, either peaceful or otherwise. The act of touching someone’s blade or even of stepping over it was not only impolite but an act of aggression.
Most of the elaborate rules for handling the katana can be traced to the simple need to keep it under control and to make it plain to others that your intentions were peaceful.
Next time you begin to bow during class, take a moment and think just why you are bowing and what purpose the act holds.

Inserted from <http://www.uoguelph.ca/~kataylor/13TIN91.htm

2010 – A year in review at the Moorhead Dojo

Looking back in the year at our dojo, I would have to say it was a pretty good one – for several reasons:

We increased our “consistent” membership from three members to eight. It’s pretty neat for me to see everyone on the line in their white hakamas doing suburi in sync – very cool! I have a good feeling about this group – everyone seems to be grasping the concepts of iaido and making the art personal for them. That’s one of the great joys for me in teaching, is seeing students start to “get it” and not only progress in their technique, but also in their spirit as well.

Continuing members Paul, Kelly, and Bert were joined by Joey, Molly, Erik, Tyler, and Greg. Welcome all!

We increased our public exposure of the dojo and iaido in general through performing several public demonstrations. We attended or presented at:

  • Core Con
  • Red River Valley Fair
  • Fargo All Martial Arts Seminar and Cancer Benefit
  • Pangea Culture festival

If possible, we’ll attend all of these again in 2011 and also will be hosting our own Midwest Kendo Federation sponsored kendo / iaido seminar sometime this summer. That’s going to be big and exciting!

We held our first tameshigiri (test cutting) class. All members of the dojo were able to cut several targets of rolled tatami mats. It was a great learning experience, and I think they could better understand why we stress the things we do about grip, stance, and our swings. I hope to be able to continue this again in 2011.

I personally had a chance to go to Guelph, Ontario in the spring to attend their annual iaido / jodo seminar. It was quite an excellent refresher, and we had an impressive lineup of sensei from all around the world to work with us. Presenting was Chihiro Kishimoto, a hanshi hachidan in iaido and also the chairman of the All Japan Kendo Federation (ZNKR) iaido committee. He brought with him, Atsumi Hatakenaka, kyoshi nanadan, and Fumio Tsubaki, kyoshi nanadan. Canadian sensei included Goyo Ohmi, renshi nanadan, Stephen Cruise, renshi nanadan, and Kim Taylor, renshi nanadan. I spent three days from 9 to 5 practicing seitei iaido with the “testing” group, and was able to receive some personal attention and comments from Kishimoto sensei. We learned some good ki-ken-tai-ichi drills that I’ve started my own students on, and a few basic changes to the seitei kata. I got to spend a bit of time with Cruise sensei reviewing some Musoshindenryu, and comparing some of the differences in our styles. It was a great seminar!

Looking forward to 2011 makes me excited for a couple of things.

First, possibly the chance to test for 5dan at either Guelph or the AUSKF summer camp. I know that I have a lot of reviewing to do of my own seitei, but what makes me most nervous is performing my first test in North America. Up to now, I’ve only had experience testing in Japan, so I’m not sure what to expect. I haven’t had the opportunity to attend the summer camp yet, and I’m really looking forward to heading to Cleveland in June for that. Hopefully Yamazaki sensei from Shizuoka will be attending again this year – I’d love to say hi and catch up with him again. Mr. Yamazaki was our Tobu region kind of lead sensei at my former dojo in Numazu, Japan. He and several other high-ranking sensei came to our dojo every month to lead in a practice and give us a review and pointers on seitei iai.

Also, I’m looking forward to hosting our first iaido seminar here in Fargo-Moorhead. I’m working with the MWKF to get some higher ranked sensei in for instruction in iaido and maybe a bit of kendo as well. It will likely be a two day weekend event with some Friday evening kendo keiko mixed in. It would be great to get some national or even international attendees if we can.

I also look forward to seeing some of my own students start to progress to the level where they may be able to attend some of these events, and test for their dan ranks as well. I would really like to see some representation by Moorhead Dojo members at these regional and national events!

It’s going to be an exciting year!

Tameshigiri – a great experience for everyone

Last class we had our first experience with tameshigiri, or test cutting with a live blade.

We ordered 80 mats with the money we received from the demo we did this fall, and over the last few weeks, we’ve been practicing the different “cuts” used in tameshigiri. During our breaks, we rolled the targets from the mats – mostly single mats, along with one double-mat target for each member to try. We had to soak them in water for over 24 hours, and then let them drip dry for another 6 or so. It was a lot of work in preparation, but it made for a good cutting session.

One of the things we learned is that we need to cut the same as we do in our iaido class. The movement of the kissaki through the air and the slicing motion of the blade is what cuts the mat, not strength. Tenouchi and using hara in our cut is very important as well.

Members of all experience levels were able to cut successfully, and I enjoyed seeing the satisfaction as each of the members made at least one perfect cut.

Student Joey put together a holiday greetings video with some of our cuts. It’s pretty funny, and you can see it below.

We’ll be putting more links up with everyone’s favorite cuts.

Good work everyone!


December Newsletter

Moorhead Dojo News
Happy Holidays!

I hope this newsletter finds you warm and comfy and ready to enjoy the Christmas holiday.

Dojo News: Tameshigiri – our first attempt!

We’ll be trying tameshigiri (test cutting) for the first time tomorrow (the 22nd). We take rolled up tatami (reed) mats, soak them in water for at least 24 hours, let them drip for another 6 or so, and then cut them with a shinken (sharp sword). For the last few weeks, the members have been practicing the specialized cuts they’re going to attempt. It involves v-shaped cuts from above, and also below and some horizontal cuts too. Of course safety is our first priority, and we’ve been covering that as well.

If a person cuts well, the “cut” portion of the mat may actually not fall off for a second or two, giving the person a chance to make another cut on that piece. I’ve seen some video of this (check our blog for some Youtube) and it’s pretty amazing. Some even attempt 2 cuts on the portion that’s still standing.
Guests are welcome to come and watch – we should be finished with our warmups and ready to begin around 7pm on Wednesday at the dojo.
Rank Testing
We’ll be tentatively testing some members for rank on Wednesday, January 19th. We should have two candidates for 2-kyu, and 3 or 4 for 4-kyu. The ranking system starts at 4kyu, then progresses up. 4kyu, 3kyu, 2kyu, Shodan (equivalent to the American “black belt”), 2dan, 3dan, etc. The highest that I can test members for rank in our dojo is 2kyu, and after that they need to go to either a regional or national US Kendo Association approved event. Fortunately, there are a few in both the US and Canada where we can do this. I myself hope to take (and pass) my 5dan test sometime this year.
Moorhead Dojo Iaido/kendo seminar and keiko
I’m working with the Midwest Kendo Federation on hosting an annual (hopefully) iaido seminar and kendo keiko event. It would consist of a Friday evening kendo keiko for the early arrivals, Saturday morning iaido seminar, noon kendo keiko, and then afternoon iaido again until 5pm or so. Saturday evening dinner, and then a Sunday morning iaido session until around noon. It would have focus for kendo people interested in learning iaido, as well as current iaido practitioners. We hope to have at least one or two high ranked sensei come in (courtesy of the US Kendo Federation) and present/teach. If the turnout is good, we can make this an annual event and (hopefully) get the appropriate funding from the kendo federation as well.
I’m VERY excited about this, and am hoping to find a good venue somewhere in the FM area to host this. We need a place with at least 11 foot ceilings, and hopefully a wood or tile floor. We would need that for both Saturday all day and Sunday to early afternoon. If anybody has any ideas, please PM me.
General Calendar of Events
This is a general list of iaido-related events that we can look forward to.
May – Kim Taylor’s annual iaido/jodo seminar in Guelph, ON. Excellent seminar! Opportunity to test for rank. (2-4 days)
June – Annual AUSKF (US Kendo Federation) summer camp. 2011 will be in Cleveland. Excellent seminar and an opportunity to test for rank. (3-4 days)
July – Red River Valley fair. Not completely sure if we are going to be there again, but I hope to be able to give at least one demo on their side stage.
Sometime July to September – Our FIRST and hopefully Annual Moorhead Dojo kendo/iaido seminar and keiko. This is going to be big! (2 days) See notes above.
October – Fargo All Martial Arts Seminar and Cancer benefit. This will be our 3rd annual. Lots of schools and styles will be there! (2 days)
October – Thunder Bay iaido seminar. Usually 2 days, and good content! Within driving distance.
November – Possibly a demo at the Japan Club event.
November – Pangea culture festival (demo).
Well, that’s about it for now. I wish everyone a happy and healthy holidays.
Merry Christmas!

Yagyu Shinkage ryu kenjutsu

This one is of a very unique style – Yagyu Shinkage ryu. Kenjutsu, unlike iaido, starts with the sword (or in this case bokuto) out of the saya. The techniques are usually done in pairs, and involve strikes and counter-strikes at full speed and intensity.

Pretty good kendo and an interesting kiai!

Here’s a good find that was referenced in Kendo World. Note the experience and intensity of the first three that go against the sensei, and then note the change that’s evident once that sensei goes against someone who’s also very experienced. The new sensei enters around 6:45.

Pangea Festival a Success!

Pangea Cultural Festival Demonstration

I’d like to thank everyone that came by the booth and said hello on Saturday at the festival. We gave out about 135 passport (Japan) stickers to people, and spoke with many more. I’m not sure the final numbers for festival attendance, but there was a pretty steady stream of people all day.
A very special thank you and “otsukaresamadeshita” goes to Bert, Joey, Erik, and Molly for participating in the demonstration and helping out at the booth. I really appreciate your dedication and attendance! Performing your kata in front of other people can be very nerve-wracking, and you all did an excellent job!
I don’t think we scared too many people, though we did get a few “wide” eyes from the girls in the front row as we performed.
Several people submitted their names, and we gave away five coupons for a month’s free lesson, and three t-shirts. I’ll be contacting the t-shirt and lesson winners shortly.

Tameshigiri – Test Cutting

Bert and I are researching places to get mats for tameshigiri. We’ll be trying that for the first time here just as soon as we can get a decent price and the mats ordered. Once the mats are here, we’ll need to soak them for a couple of days in some water. The mats, when rolled, are between 3 and 4 feet long, and we’ll need something to completely submerge them in. Do any of the members have a 55 gal drum or available bath tub they wouldn’t mind using for this purpose? Once the mats have soaked for about 2 days, we’ll let them drip for another day before cutting. They should be good and saturated, but not dripping wet.
Again, safety is first, so we’ll be practicing the swings and techniques in practices prior to the event. Should be a lot of fun! I had previously posted some Youtube links on the blog. Check them out for examples of tameshigiri.

New Faces in the Dojo

We’ve gotten a few new faces the last few months. Welcome to Tyler, Josh, Russell, and Gary. We’re glad to have you join us!

That’s about it, have a Happy Thanksgiving!